And here it starts.. World Cup 2011

19th February 2011 and its the first match of the World Cup of Cricket 2011 being hosted in India, Sri Lanka and Bangaldesh.

There is enough material about the world cup on the internet, television, radio and wherever you go. So no point mentioning the details like who’s playing whom and when and who is the favorite and who is the underdog.  We all Indians want our country to win like most other cricket fans from their nation.

This is my 8th World Cup beginning from 1983 when I was 9 years old, so technically I was a toddler during the first one and a bumbling 5 year old during the 2nd. I remember the 3rd world cup, known as Prudential World Cup. I remember watching the Finals LIVE on Doordarshan, interrupted by ‘Batmya’ at 7.30 pm and ‘Samachar’ at 9.00 pm but it was a memorable night when India lifted the cup, although honestly I now have a very vague memory of that night but enough to feel proud of witnessing history.

1987 was a heart breaker when India lost to England in the semis and i remember the pin-drop silence walking out of the Wankhede at the end of that match. I was there and do not want to remember it. 1992 was the best format where every team played every other. I remember breaking my home window grill when India lost to Australia and our batsman did not take the match tieing run when it was available. I remember running home from my final board exams to watch the semifinals and i remember the 2 deadly in-swingers Wasim Akram bowled in the finals.

1996 was watched with friends either at a different freinds house every match and India Australia match in Wankhede is memorable, not only because it was an electrifying atmosphere but also because the manner in which all our freinds procured the tickets withstanding lathicharge from police. I had my arm swollen for a week. The semifinal loss was the worst though and I stopped watching after stone-pelting started.

1999 world cup has mixed emories with superb victory over Sri Lanka and Pakistan followed by ugly losses against Zimbabwe only to lose badly against South Africa and Australia

2003 was of course the best so far with India doing really well, Nehra’s 6 wickets in Durban and Sachin’s 98 against Pakistan are 2 of the favorite matches. The loss in Finals made me hate Australia and Ricky Ponting even more and I continue to dislike them.

2007 was blink and miss and literally I missed it as I was travelling during both of India’s losses against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Both times I was in the train, night journey with matches being in Caribbean I was checking scores through cell phone and SMS’s only to discover that India was losing and the world cup was over before it started.

Now its 2011. This one is huge. Its at home and as mentioned above all of us have high hopes for India to win it. This also is Sachin’s  ( hopefully not) realistically last world cup. He is the guy who has defined ODI cricket and it would be a Billion people’s dream come true if he were to lift the world cup on his home ground on 2nd April, 2011.

My elder son is about the same age I was in 1983. Maybe the history would repeat itself. Fingers Crossed.

The Nervous Hour – Test Cricket at its Best

Couldn’t Eat ! Couldn’t Talk ! Couldn’t Move and certainly Couldn’t Work ! That was the situation with most of us. This was during the final agonizing hour of the Cricket Test Match between India and Australia at Mohali.

For those who do not know what happened today here is the brief overview. India was set a moderate target of 216 runs to witn the first test and had lost 4 important wickets with just 55 on board at end of day yesterday and thus needed 161 more runs to win on a crumbling uneven pitch with Aussies determined to win. With Sachin in the middle we all had hopes that some miracle would happen. Sachin and Zaheer Khan continued the fight with Zaheer falling early. VVS Laxman came on the crease and he and Sachin started playing shots and showing positive intent. They took the target below 100 and the hopes were rising and then the inevitable happened. Sachin fell quickly followed by Dhoni and Harbhajan leaving India tottering at 122 with 8 wickets down and unfit VVS Laxman at the crease with another unfit player Ishant Sharma for support and with just Pragyan Ojha to come, it was all over. People had written the match off, started blaming various people, recalling how India always failed to chase modest 4th Innings target and how once again Sachin couldn’t guide India to a famous victory. It was just a matter of time and people were not even hoping for any miracle now.

But VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma didn’t give up, slowly and steadily they started scoring runs, one run at a time with an occasional boundary to boost some hopes but in their heart everybody knew this was just a futile effort. The target was way too high for this pair. Till the time the target reduced to about 50 at Lunch I think even the players didn’t believe that they could do it. And suddenly the target reduced to 30 and everybody started having hopesand dreams of snatching victory. Fingers were crossed, toes were curled, no one moved, anyone saying even a word was considered to be jinxing it and was cursed upon by. Flow of messages on Twitter reduced to minimal as everybody was busy concentrating on what was happening in the match.  Every run was then  cheered and the players too started beleiving that they could win.

Australians were getting frustrated and the target reduced to barely 15 and then Ishant Sharma fell to a dubious decision by Umpire Ian Gould. Loud curses blaming everybody from the umpire to  Laxman for giving too much strike to Ishant to BCCI for not getting UDRS system in place were heard. Could it be a case of ‘close but not enough’. Will it be another heartburn? Will Aussies do what they did few years back at Sydney? Will India collapse at the final hurdle? Ghosts of Chennai 2001 against Pakistan were refreshed.

Pragyan Ojha joined Laxman and the next 10 minutes the Channel Neo Sports would have got the highest TRP ever in their entire career. Everybody was glued on to the TV set and those with no access to television were all logged onto the net either on Cricinfo.com website other sports site offering live scores and live feed. The Commonwealth Games and India’s Gold Medal haul were forgotten for that hour.  Life has just paused everywhere, of course possibility of any work was long gone.The Cricinfo servers crashed because of tremendous traffic adding to the chaos. There were few lucky breaks, leg byes, over throws and a doubtful umpiring decision which went in India’s favor this time and India pulled it off. Pragyan Ojha tried to flick the Mitchel Johnson ball to the leg side and it got deflected by his pad and earned 2 valuable legbyes to India resulting in the narrowest of victory in India’s cricketing history.

The world erupted. Loud screams, crackers on the road and twitteratis were back furiously tweeting and life was restored in the metropolises and towns across India. India had pulled off one of the greatest come-from-behind victories ever with 9th wicket pair of VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma adding close to 90 runs. Zaheer Khan was named man of the match for fine display of bowling although my personal choice would have been Ishant Sharma for doing something which was totally unexpected of him and to stonewall charging Australian bowlers is a massive task for a number 10 batsman and of course how can we forget VVS Laxman, the biggest thorn in Australia’s path. It was a team effort and almost everyone contributed to the victory.

Ishant Sharma had done it, Very Very Special Laxman had yet again mauled the Aussies. Rickey Ponting was denied victory once more. He has never won a test match in India as Captain of Australia in 3 visits. The terms VVS, Laxman, Ishant, Sharma, Test Cricket all were trending at the same time on Twitter and thus proving the large support the match had on the Internet and I have no fingernails left to chew now, need to regrow them before the Bangalore Test in 3 days.

This was Cricket at its best. This match has reminded again to all cricket lovers and everyone that this was the real form of cricket and not the slam-bang variety of T20 and ODIs. This was the battle where warriors fought over 5 days and true  winner earned the victory not with only luck but with skills, temperament and a will to win. This was Test Cricket at its peak.

I am writing this few hours after the match is over and I can still recount the final hour, the minutes , the seconds, the loud heartbeats and have today experienced one of the best cricket matches of my cricket watching career.